Learning and Understanding

Learning is a word that can be defined by many people, but do they really understand what learning means. Thinking about learning, many people think about their formal education in school where they sat at a desk, were fed facts and formulas, and expected to memorize them. They do not include the informal learning experiences they had since they were born. The reality is that people use what they know and believe in order to build knowledge in and out of the classroom.  As James Paul Gee states in “Digital Media and Learning: A Prospective Retrospective” (2013), “The human mind learns through well-designed experiences. It finds patterns and associations across different experiences and after lots of time, effort, and practice—generalize these patterns and associations into the sorts of concepts, principles, and generalizations we humans capture in language and other symbol systems” (p. 1). Teachers need to use these unique experiences in order to captivate the minds of their students so learning can take place.

Knowledge is not just about the facts you commit to memory, but how to apply them in a real world situations. Assessments and classroom structures need to transform from memorizing to learning centered and knowledge centered classroom environments. In How People Learn the authors believe that attention must be given to what is taught, why it is taught, and what competence or mastery looks like (p.24). This ability is the ability to transfer from one thing to another. According to the writers, “Transfer is defined as the ability to extend what has been learned in one context to new contexts” (p.51). Transfer from school to everyday environments is the ultimate purpose of school based learning (p.78). Transfer is also enhanced by instruction that helps students represent problems at higher levels of abstraction (p.63). When using Blooms taxonomy, we know all learning objectives and results should not be considered equal. Some teachers, especially in mathematics, believe that memorization or facts and formulas measures student success. They teach, practice, and test memorization instead of emphasizing more important ideas in learning. Memorizing is a low level skill. Students need higher levels such as analyzing, creating, and evaluating. The traditional classroom is changing and teachers need to adjust our technique in order for our students to reach these higher levels.

I used to think that teaching was about making students learn, but now I know that it is about letting it happen. Learning is something that many people think comes natural. I have always been curious about what was going on around me. If I felt like I did not understand something, I would search for resources that would help. You do not need a teacher to teach you if you want to learn. Teachers should be there to facilitate learning. To many students, school is a painful and exhausting burden they are forced to attend. Lessons need to be designed to include students’ passions and interests so that we can alter their view on education. Although books are still great resources, technology is becoming more available and can be re-purposed to be utilized in the classroom. According to Gee said, “Any media—most certainly including books—can lead to good, bad, or much of nothing depending on how, when, and where they are used” (p. 9). This generation of school aged students grew up and developed with technology, so why not use it to our advantage

Teaching for understanding can be difficult especially since it was not the way many teachers were taught. Learning with understanding takes a greater amount of time then strictly memorizing. With the overwhelming amount of material teachers are expected to cover and students are expected to learn in a year span, teaching for understanding can seem impossible. We need to figure out how to achieve this goal, and the first step is to help students become more aware of themselves as learners. We need to help them to develop their metacognitive skills so they can reflect and determine their mastery of a topic. “A metacognitive approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them” (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, & Pellegrino, 2000, p.18). It is our job as teachers to teach these skills through how were deliver the content we are trying to teach. Students need time to process, organize, and reflect on what they are learning in the classroom in order to understand.


Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom’s Taxonomy) http://ww2.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm

Bransford, J., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.), How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school (pp. 1-78). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368

Gee, James-Paul. “Digital Media and Learning: A Prospective Retrospective.” Web. Retrieved 26 May 2014, from http://www.jamespaulgee.com/node/67

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